Spiritual Questions and Spiritual Answers

Today I taught my class of 12-13 year olds about the Prophet Joseph Smith. We read parts of Elder Anderson’s talk from conference a couple of years ago, and spoke about Joseph Smith’s life and character. Doing so really helped me to appreciate the importance of gaining a witness of the role Joseph Smith played in restoring the true Church of Christ to the earth.

What I really enjoyed about Elder Anderson’s talk is how he focused on the importance of turning to God to get spiritual answers. It seems to me that this is an often ignored component in the process of learning. We focus on book learning, but fail to recognize the importance of having the spirit with us.

Why does the Lord allow the evil speaking to chase after the good? One reason is that opposition against the things of God sends seekers of truth to their knees for answers.

Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, “ask of God.” Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.

At the end of the day, we have a choice. We can look at the same facts and reach different conclusions. We can focus on all of the flaws in Joseph’s character and life, or we can see the divine hand guiding him as the prophet of the Restoration. If we take the former course, then we will grow more and more cynical. There is always evidence to affirm our worst fears. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to see instances of divine inspiration in the life of the Prophet, then our faith will grow stronger. We will be blessed with a witness of the holy ghost and a sure testimony that he was, in fact, a Prophet of god. That is the type of witness that we need in these days.

Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.

Recently while I was on the East Coast of the United States, a returned missionary spoke to me about a friend who had become disillusioned with information he had received about the Prophet Joseph Smith. They had spoken several times, and the returned missionary seemed to have some doubts himself as a result of the discussions.

Although I hoped he could strengthen his friend, I felt concerned for his own testimony. Brothers and sisters, let me give you a caution: you won’t be of much help to others if your own faith is not securely in place.

A few weeks ago I boarded a plane for South America. The flight attendant directed our attention to a safety video. “It is unlikely,” we were warned, “but if cabin pressure changes, the panels above your seat will open, revealing oxygen masks. If this happens, reach up and pull a mask toward you. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Slip the elastic strap over your head and adjust the mask if necessary.” Then this caution: “Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”

The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish. There will be family members and friends who will need your help. Now is the time to adjust your own spiritual oxygen mask so that you are prepared to help others who are seeking the truth.

As part of my lesson, I showed my class a video that I felt best illustrates the character of the Prophet. One of my favorite stories of the Prophet is how he was willing to forgive apostates such as W.W. Phelps even though they had done incalculable harm to the Church and to Joseph personally.  Joseph Smith’s kind words “Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last,” were magnanimous and charitable beyond my ability. For me, his actions illustrate his character and motivate me to try to become better.

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“Sacred Moments When Mortality and Heaven Intersect”

Elder Weatherford T. Clayton’s talk about the plan of salvation resonated with me since I have experienced both birth and death in my family in the recent past. He emphasized that:

The world sees birth and death as the beginning and the end. But because of God’s holy plan, we know that birth and death are actually just milestones on our journey to eternal life with our Heavenly Father. They are essential parts of our Father’s plan—sacred moments when mortality and heaven intersect.

In those sacred moments, I have felt that intersection between heaven and earth. Holding our beautiful newborn daughters in my arms is a moment that can never be forgotten.  Those moments were filled with such incredible hope and love. I also felt an incredible sense of responsibility, as I knew that I was holding a precious child of God.

Likewise, when my father died I experienced what Elder Clayton described:

In that moment of death, the room was filled with peace. Her daughters had a sweet sadness, but their hearts were filled with faith. They knew that their mother was not gone but had returned home. Even in our moments of deepest grief, in the moments when time stands still and life seems so unfair, we can find comfort in our Savior because He suffered as well.

Knowing about the plan of salvation brought me such great peace in that moment. That peace passes all understanding. It is a spiritual gift that is given to us by God to help strengthen and comfort us. I saw the sorrow that my other relatives experienced and longed to let them know about the soul healing truths that I knew.  And yet, it was not something they were ready to understand.

I am beyond grateful for my knowledge of the plan. It is an anchor to my life in times of trial. I know that one day, I will see those that have passed again, and I will be with those I love forever.

 

President Monson’s Witness of the Resurrection of Christ

Throughout his Apostleship, President Monson has returned to the theme of the resurrection time and again. Since today is Easter, reading and reflecting on some of those talks seemed appropriate. I will focus on two in particular one from April 1976 and one from April 2010 because they both begin with the same story. But there are many others as well.

President Monson opened both talks by talking about a painting he saw at the Tate Gallery called Hopeless Dawn.

A Hopeless Dawn 1888 by Frank Bramley 1857-1915

In the April 1976 talk, President Monson recounted the woman’s despair and the despair of all those who lose loved one’s without faith in the resurrection:

“For her and many others who have loved and lost dear ones, each dawn is hopeless. Such is the experience of those who regard the grave as the end and immortality as but a dream.”

In the April 2010 talk, President Monson instead strongly emphasized the universality of that experience to all:

Among all the facts of mortality, none is so certain as its end. Death comes to all; it is our “universal heritage; it may claim its victim[s] in infancy or youth, [it may visit] in the period of life’s prime, or its summons may be deferred until the snows of age have gathered upon the … head; it may befall as the result of accident or disease, … or … through natural causes; but come it must.” It inevitably represents a painful loss of association and, particularly in the young, a crushing blow to dreams unrealized, ambitions unfulfilled, and hopes vanquished.

What mortal being, faced with the loss of a loved one or, indeed, standing himself or herself on the threshold of infinity, has not pondered what lies beyond the veil which separates the seen from the unseen?

30+ years of service as an apostle give President Monson’s more recent talk a greater resonance with all listeners. He is speaking to the universal human experience. Even those who have been raised to believe in Christ must come face to face with the brutal reality of death.

In the 1976 talk, President Monson spoke of two widows who became bitter at the death of their spouse. He emphasized how President Harold B. Lee went and ministered to them and invited them back to activity. He helped them know of the truth of the resurrection and promise of eternal life:

God had once again remembered the widow and, through a prophet, brought divine comfort.

The darkness of death can ever be dispelled by the light of revealed truth. “I am the resurrection, and the life,” spoke the Master. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26.)

This reassurance, yes, even holy confirmation of life beyond the grave, could well be the peace promised by the Savior when he assured his disciples:

President Monson invited all to gain a witness of that eternal truth

This is the knowledge that sustains. This is the truth that comforts. This is the assurance that guides those bowed down with grief out of the shadows and into the light.

Such help is not restricted to the elderly, the well-educated, or a select few. It is available to all.

Thus the 1976 talk focused on gaining a personal witness of the resurrection.

The April 2010 talk instead focused on the role the resurrection plays in the plan of salvation, because “[t]o understand the meaning of death, we must appreciate the purpose of life.” He then continued to recount the story of the atonement, death, and resurrection in great detail. His focus on the life of the Savior created great emotional depth.

At the last moment, the Master could have turned back. But He did not. He passed beneath all things that He might save all things. His lifeless body was hurriedly but gently placed in a borrowed tomb.

No words in Christendom mean more to me than those spoken by the angel to the weeping Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when, on the first day of the week, they approached the tomb to care for the body of their Lord.

Throughout both of those talks, President Monson bore a powerful and consistent witness of the hope of the resurrection.

Honorable Employment

During the 1970s and early 80s, the Church held a welfare session occasionally during general conference. Many of the talks were about specific programs or organizations that are no longer relevant. But during the October 1975 conference, President Howard W. Hunter spoke about principles relating to toil and employment that are universal in their application.

I particularly liked his definition of “honorable employment”:

“Now, may we refer specifically to vocational work or employment. The employment we choose should be honorable and challenging. Ideally, we need to seek that work to which we are suited by interest, by aptitude, and by training. A man’s work should do more than provide adequate income; it should provide him with a sense of self-worth and be a pleasure—something he looks forward to each day.

May I suggest a definition of “honorable employment.” Honorable employment is honest employment. Fair value is given and there is no defrauding, cheating, or deceit. Its product or service is of high quality, and the employer, customer, client, or patient receives more than he or she expected. Honorable employment is moral. It involves nothing that would undermine public good or morality. For example, it does not involve traffic in liquor, illicit narcotics, or gambling. Honorable employment is useful. It provides goods or services which make the world a better place in which to live. Honorable employment is also remunerative. It provides enough income so that we may be self-sufficient and able to support our families, while leaving us enough time free to be good fathers and church workers.

I love that President Hunter emphasized that labor should ideally fill us “with a sense of self-worth and be a pleasure” rather than a toil. So many people find work that they can hardly tolerate. I feel especially lucky to be a lawyer and to involved in a profession that keeps me intellectually stimulated and allows me to feel like I can make a real difference in the world. President Hunter’s talk inspires me to try to find the most satisfying work that I can, rather than to be involved in a grind for billable hours.

Work should also leave us with enough time to spend with our families and on church callings. That balance gets harder and harder in the modern world. Technology has made greater and greater demands on our time. We may not always be so lucky. But we certainly should try to strike the proper balance in our lives.

Gnawing Hunger and Being Filled

In October 1975, Elder Wirthlin who was presiding over the European area spoke about his experience serving there:

“We have observed a restless spirit of searching today among the people of Europe. Why? Because there is a gnawing hunger in the human heart that, if not fed by the truths of the gospel, leaves life empty and devoid of peace. The hodgepodge of economic “isms” advocated by so-called wise men of the world has solved few, if any, problems, and has brought no real joy. Such empty nostrums have led mankind to seek worldly goods and symbols of material power, blinding humanity to the truth that only the righteous life firmly established in the daily living of God’s commandments brings true happiness. Anything less leaves the heart unfed, with a yearning inner hunger—a hunger which it is our mission to identify and define and of which we should make the people aware. I have seen in Europe the fulfillment of the words of Amos, that there would be “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread … but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11.)

That feeling of “gnawing” hunger is what led me to the Church. I thought I could find inner peace and happiness through a secular humanistic philosophy, but found myself coming up short. I knew I had a hole that needed to be filled.

Yet, more and more I wonder whether Satan hasn’t succeeded in dulling that gnawing. He has amped up his efforts to dull our senses and to stop us from truly stopping and reflecting. In a 24 hour media cycle, with never ending content to consume, who has time to stop and hunger? Who cares if the calories we are consuming are vapid and lacking in nutritional value? If we constantly feel a temporary fullness, then we will not know the difference. Satan has succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of so many through his constant efforts at diversion.

We need to see through his deceptions and realize that we need to do better at finding the time for reflecting on the word of God and receiving personal revelation. Then, when we do so we can set a pattern and example for others to follow and see through the mists of darkness.

 

Jan Tolman Standing By Our Personal Declarations http://www.mormonwomenstand.com/standing-by-our-…al-declaractions/
Marilyn Nielson Those infuriating, necessary, other people http://light-in-leaves.blogspot.com/2017/04/those-infuriating-necessary-other-people.html
Nathaniel Givens Heaven is Other People http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2017/04/11/heaven-is-other-people/

Lead me, Guide me, Walk beside me

I enjoyed Elder Brough’s take on the words to the hymn I Am A Child of God:

When thinking of guidance, we might think of a hymn we all know and love–“I Am a Child of God.” In the chorus we find the words “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.”

Until recently, I understood that chorus to be divine direction to parents. While pondering these words, I realized that while they contain that direction, there exists a far greater meaning. Individually, we each plead daily that Heavenly Father will guide us, lead us, and walk beside us.

As parents, we have to lead our children on the path, but far more importantly, we have to direct them to Heavenly Father who can direct them more fully.

Thus, our goal must be to help facilitate a connection to God who is the divine source of all righteousness. When trials come, a connection to us will not be enough. A connection to heaven is needed.

Second, to truly guide youth, we must connect them with heaven. The time always comes when each must stand alone. Only Heavenly Father can be there to guide at all times and in all places. Our youth must know how to seek Heavenly Father’s guidance.

God will never abandon us. At times he may seem far away. But he has promised to always be there for us. He is always listening even though the answers we seek may be far off. I have experienced periods where the heavens seem closed and answers do not come. But I also testify that the heavens are open. I know answers come in the Lord’s own time. I loved Elder Brough’s story to that effect:

At one such time, I sought Heavenly Father’s counsel through constant and heartfelt prayer for more than a year to find the solution to a difficult situation. I knew logically that Heavenly Father answers all sincere prayers. Yet I reached such desperation one day that I attended the temple with one question: “Heavenly Father, do You really care?”

I was sitting near the back of the Logan Utah Temple waiting room when, to my surprise, entering the room that day was the temple president, Vaughn J. Featherstone, a close family friend. He stood at the front of the congregation and welcomed all of us. When he noticed me among the temple patrons, he stopped speaking, looked me in the eyes, and then said, “Brother Brough, it is good to see you in the temple today.”

I will never forget the feeling of that simple moment. It was as if–in that greeting–Heavenly Father was stretching forth His hand and saying, “Here am I.”

I too have had such simple experiences that have confirmed for me that God is mindful of me and is always there for me.

A Work of Love

President Eyring’s talk on Saturday Morning was filled with remarkable pockets of divine truth that stood out to me

1) President Eyring spoke about why we call each other Brother and Sister in Church. We mouth the words, but so we truly mean it? Can we live up to that beautiful teaching?

You see, the names “brother” and “sister” are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives.

2) Speaking of the premortal existence, President Eyring noted how we shouted for joy before we came here. I love that notion. No matter how rough life can be at times, we hungered and fought for the opportunity to be here.

You see, the names “brother” and “sister” are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives.

3) President Eyring succinctly explained why the family is so central to God’s plan. It allows us to model celestial life while still on earth:

This is part of the miracle of Heavenly Father’s plan. He wants His children to come to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven. Families are the basic organizational unit of the eternal realms, and so He intends for them also to be the basic unit on earth.

4) I loved President Eyring’s teachings on temple work and how the opportunity to receive the Gospel in this life of the next makes clear that God is a just and loving God:

Only a very small minority of God’s children obtain during this life a complete understanding of God’s plan, along with access to the priesthood ordinances and covenants that make the Savior’s atoning power fully operative in our lives. Even those with the best of parents may live faithfully according to the light they have but never hear about Jesus Christ and His Atonement or be invited to be baptized in His name. This has been true for countless millions of our brothers and sisters throughout the world’s history.

Some may consider this unfair. They may even take it as evidence that there is no plan, no specific requirements for salvation–feeling that a just, loving God would not create a plan that is available to such a small proportion of His children. Others might conclude that God must have determined in advance which of His children He would save and made the gospel available to them, while those who never heard the gospel simply were not “chosen.”

But you and I know, because of the truths restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that God’s plan is much more loving and just than that. Our Heavenly Father is anxious to gather and bless all of His family. While He knows that not all of them will choose to be gathered, His plan gives each of His children the opportunity to accept or reject His invitation. And families are at the heart of this plan.

How wonderful this Doctrine is to my soul. Nothing resonates with me more deeply than the knowledge that this life is not the end of progress, knowledge and growth.

5) Fittingly this week Jews across the world celebrated Passover and left a cup for Elijah. President Eyring noted the remarkable fulfillment of the promise of Malachi that Elijah would come again:

Today is April 1. Two days from now, April 3, marks 181 years from the day when Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled. On that day, Elijah did come, and he gave to Joseph Smith the priesthood power to seal families eternally (see D&C 110:13–16).

From that day to this, interest in exploring one’s family history has grown exponentially. At ever-increasing rates, people seem drawn to their ancestry with more than just casual curiosity. Genealogical libraries, associations, and technologies have emerged around the world to support this interest. The internet’s power to enhance communications has enabled families to work together to do family history research with a speed and thoroughness never before possible.

Why is all of this happening? For lack of a better term, we call it the “spirit of Elijah.” We could also equally call it “fulfillment of prophecy.” I bear testimony that Elijah did come. The hearts of the children–of you and me–have turned to our fathers, our ancestors. The affection you feel for your ancestors is part of the fulfillment of that prophecy. It is deeply seated in your sense of who you are. But it has to do with more than just inherited DNA.

6) Finally, I was moved by President Eyring’s call to fully participate in temple work and that our day was set aside for that work. The miraculous technology we have in the palm of our hands is not merely for Facebook of texting, but for the offering of salvation to millions or billions of our brothers and sisters:

This is the work of our generation, what the Apostle Paul called “the dispensation of the fulness of times,” when he said God would “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). This is made possible through the atoning work of God’s Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Because of Him, our family members, “who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:13–14). You have felt this, as I have, when you have experienced an increase of love as you looked at the picture of an ancestor. You have felt it in the temple when the name on a card seemed like more than a name, and you couldn’t help but sense that this person was aware of you and felt your love.

I testify that God the Father wants His children home again, in families and in glory. The Savior lives. He directs and blesses this work, and He watches over and guides us. He thanks you for your faithful service in gathering His Father’s family, and I promise you the inspired help that you seek and need. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.